The 9-box grid for identifying performance and potential

As a project manager, you are constantly striving to improve and develop your team. Recently, you came across a promising training programme in a trade magazine that seems perfect for your staff. The challenge, however, is the limited number of participants allowed. Who should you choose? This is where the 9-box grid becomes an invaluable tool. By assessing your team members based on their potential and performance, this model helps you identify the ideal candidates for training. This approach not only benefits the individual, but also strengthens the organisation as a whole.
Six people sit around a table and discuss while two women work on a whiteboard with sticky notes.


Understanding the 9 box grid

The 9-box grid, also known as a talent management tool, plays a critical role in identifying and developing talent within an organisation. Talent management involves implementing effective methods and strategies, both internally and externally, to develop the right people for specific roles. The 9-box grid helps in the first step of discovering these talents, and then developing and challenging them. By categorising each employee, the grid facilitates informed decisions about promotions and other career advancement.
The model is based on two key criteria: performance and potential. But what exactly do they mean?

Description of the axes

Performance is performance behaviour that contributes to the achievement of the Performance refers to behaviour that directly contributes to the achievement of the organisation's objectives. It includes behaviour related to work tasks, with a particular focus on productivity. In essence, it measures how well an employee does their job and contributes to the success of the organisation.
Potential, on the other hand, refers to an individual's ability to develop and improve performance over time. It highlights the capacity for growth, learning and the ability to take on more challenging responsibilities in the future.
Understanding the definitions of performance and potential is just the beginning; it's equally important to establish clear criteria for assessing them. Transparent criteria help to ensure that all employees are assessed fairly and that everyone understands the principles of the assessment. The criteria need to be as objective as possible and should be reviewed regularly to ensure they remain relevant and accurate. In addition, different jobs may require different criteria, as a one-size-fits-all approach is not effective for evaluating different roles.
  • Examples of performance assessment: achievement of objectives, quality of work, exemplary commitment, teamwork and continuous development.
  • Examples for evaluating potential: characteristics that qualify for more demanding tasks, motivation.

The path to creating the boxes

The visual representation of the model is a 3x3 matrix, with the columns representing performance and the rows representing potential. 
To categorise employees, they are first assessed on their performance against the above criteria. They can then be categorised on a scale of low, moderate and high and entered into the box.
Potential is then assessed. This can give an indication of how quickly an employee can develop and what their future potential is. The scale of low, moderate and high is also used here.

The nine boxes in detail

Once the assessment has taken place, the employees can be entered into the individual boxes. On this basis, an interpretation can be made and a decision taken on how to proceed with the employee.

High potential / high performance

This person is an outstanding performer, has high potential for more demanding tasks and is therefore the most valuable talent. They should be supported in order to maintain their current high performance and to keep them in the company for the long term. This can be done by preparing them for a leadership role in the company.
High potential / moderate performance + moderate potential / moderate performance + moderate potential / high performance

Even if individuals have different combinations of performance and potential, they can be managed with the same strategy. It is important to continue to reward them appropriately, i.e. to focus on improvement programmes to enable them to take on more challenging tasks, as they could develop into potential stars.
High potential / Low performance + Low potential / High performance

In both cases, the individuals should be kept in their current roles and encouraged, as they are very good in one of the two areas. However, there are slight differences in the assessment.
Individuals with low potential but high performance should be encouraged for future, potentially more challenging roles. Once they have been trained through an appropriate strategy and have reached a certain level, other areas of work can be opened up to them.
Employees with high potential but low performance should be given time to improve their performance in their current job. This requires clear communication of what is expected of them and what the consequences may be.
Moderate potential / Low performance + Low potential / Moderate performance

Neither group has the best starting conditions. However, they can be supported with targeted measures to find out how they are developing through active support. Then it can be decided whether the performance is sufficient or whether separation is necessary.
Low potential / low performance

For these people, an initial attempt may be made to move them to another role to develop their potential. If this is not possible, consider whether they have a future in the company.

Examples of how to develop staff

There are various training programmes that can be used for staff development. Of course, not everything can be covered, but these points can be taken into account as far as possible.
The choice can be influenced by several factors: 
1. What role is the development for?
Is it a training programme for managers or for other employees?
2. Are the employees geographically dispersed?
Training can take place at the workplace, at home or at a training centre.
3. The learning style of the employees
Not all employees learn in frontal classes. Sometimes it helps to teach the material yourself.

Seminars are usually events lasting several days that take place outside the organisation and are purchased from an external provider. They are a mixture of lectures, discussions and exercises. In the seminar, the transfer of what has been learnt is practised.
Impulse training

This type of training takes place at regular intervals over a longer period of time close to the workplace in the company and lasts 2 to 4 hours. It is a mixture of lecture, discussion and exercises. The content is practised and the experience gained is incorporated into the next training session.
Digital learning

Digital learning takes place on a computer and is therefore independent of location. But again, there are different ways of learning. 
1. synchronous:
This involves direct / simultaneous communication in the form of webinars (live online seminar) or live online presentations.
2. asynchronous: 
This is time-delayed communication in the form of explanatory videos (e.g. animated videos, screencasts) or blogs.
Management development

If an employee belongs to the category of high potentials and high performers, they can participate in management training as a potential manager. However, only appointed and experienced managers can benefit from this. 
This training is usually organised as a series of seminars over one to two years and includes improving the ability to think and act when dealing with employees, improving strategic thinking and changing attitudes.


The 9-box grid is a good way of identifying talent. It provides useful information about performance and potential, and allows for targeted analysis of which employees should receive further support. In particular, gaps in skills and knowledge can be closed and employees can be developed. 
But it is not only talent that can be developed; it is also possible to identify which employees need how much support and, most importantly, how to deal with individual team members. By identifying people with high potential but low performance, you can try to develop them so that their performance matches their potential. Instead of simply letting them go, you can give them another chance to show what they can do for a period of time.
Linking performance to potential is also beneficial in that the fact that a person is performing well in their current role does not automatically mean they will perform equally well in another role. In other words, if someone is performing well enough to be promoted to a managerial role, but does not have the potential, they should not be promoted.

Challenges and points of criticism

A major criticism is that performance and potential are simplistic and do not take into account all the individual aspects. After all, it is possible to have a bad day on the day performance is measured. And this does not reflect the other good days.
In addition, subjective judgments can sometimes occur, even though the process is designed to be objective. This can lead to certain people being favoured because they may be more likeable.
It is also difficult to place people correctly in the intermediate categories, as these sometimes overlap. It is therefore important to define precise criteria that must be met in order for a person to be correctly categorised.
In addition, as briefly mentioned above, each industry or even field of activity must have its own evaluation criteria. In project management, it is not possible to compare an employee working in the project management office with an employee working on a construction site, as the activities are different and therefore require different criteria.
In order to improve at least some points, the analysis can be carried out by an external party. This avoids, for example, the subjective view of people, and the categorisation is also somewhat easier, as no one is favoured or discriminated against.


The 9-box-grid provides managers with a structured basis for decision making by providing a method of assessing employees that enables informed decisions to be made about development activities. It can also help identify potential risks and gaps in the talent pipeline by highlighting where there is a lack of high potential talent or where performance issues need to be addressed. Despite its usefulness, the model is not without its critics, particularly in relation to the subjectivity of assessing performance and potential.

9-box grid - the IAPM logo
Author: IAPM internal
Keywords: Project management, 9-box grid model

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